The best was Carla’s molten lobster dip — real bits of lobster, creamy-rich and slightly peppery.
1309 Orange Avenue, Coronado
"This is crazy,” says Carla.
We’re climbing up the stairs toward the most expensive watering hole in downtown Coronado, if you’re after steaks. A $120 steak, anyone? News of this ran like an electric shock through the Coronado, uh, cognoscenti, from what Carla told me. Diane, her hair person, told her. Okay, it turned out to be the 50-ounce tomahawk rib chop. So, yes, this could be asking for bi-ig trouble at the paying end. But, hey, Valentine’s Day, a new puffy hairdo to celebrate, I figure, why not? We can always walk out. Or do dishes.
The balcony at Stake
Thing is, though, I have already been here snooping about last year, when they were gearing up. Somebody back then said they’d probably have a happy hour, and, presto, they do, every afternoon.
So, this is around five in the evening. We climb the steps — though they have an outside elevator, too — and puff our way through the doors. Bevy of smart, slim ladies in black suits there to welcome us. Yes, they know we’re cheapos here for happy hour, but they still treat us like VIPs and lead us through to the front balcony. Even in happy hour, you’re not herded into just a bar area. I like that.
Out on the balcony, sun’s going all red and crinkly. But between Huey and us, there’s this rack of fire. It runs right along the front and casts a romantic light on everyone. I mean, there’s something primitive about flames that makes contact with our back brains, I swear.
My Philly cheesesteak sliders. Luscious, totally tender, but flavor a bit lame
Whatever, there’s lots of folks out here, most drinking, some eating. Carla reckons the drinkers are waiting for other table companions to arrive to join them in the “real” chow hall inside. Me, I’ll take the outside any day of the week.
We plant ourselves by the light of the fire. Love it. Big sky, red horizon, Coronado below, warm rack of flames up close.
“Something to drink?” says Gwyn, the server who brought us out.
Carla goes for the iced tea, $4. I have a Coronado Brewing Mermaid red. Costs $5. Two bucks off the regular price.
Now, down to business.
But where's the flavor? Stake fries with Bordelaise and ketchup
We scour the appetizers box in the menu. Why? Because it’s the only part that reads “1/2 off during happy hour, 4:30 p.m.–6:30 p.m.” Eight items.
“Read it out,” says Carla.
So I start off at the top. “Stake popcorn with smoked salt, $5.”
Then it’s “molten” lobster dip with “cheese curds, Calabrian peppers, crostini,” $19.
Ulp, cost curve rising.
“Or, ‘hand cut Stake fries w/Bordelaise, $10.’”
“Fries, ten bucks, really?” says Carla.
“Or stake tartare, with chips, quail egg, cornichon (small gherkin),” $18.
“Tartare? That’s the rare one or the raw one?” says Carla.
“Raw,” I say. “Just think of the Tartars racing across Russia and Mongolia with Genghis Khan. They’d lay steaks between the saddle and the horse’s skin. So they massaged the meat as they rode. And the horse’s sweat tenderized it and gave it that special flavor. So they were kinda cooking their meal as they rode. Never had time for fires.”
“Nuh-uh. Definitely heard that somewhere.”
Not-so-interesting fries, but the dipping pots were cute.
“Yeah, right. Thanks for putting me right off of that one. Suppose you have stories for every high-priced item.”
We flip through the rest, and they’re maybe the most interesting. “Brooklyn bacon steak” is two thick slices of giant bacon that goes for $11. Philly cheese steak sliders with duck fat onion and, uh, Cheez Whiz sound pretty tempting. Price tag, $15. There’s a cheese plate, too, for $15, and tempura vegetables for $12.
“I don’t know,” says Carla to Gwyn. “These are happy-hour prices?”
“Oh, no!” says Gwyn. “You cut each price in half.”
“All right!” says Carla. “Now we can eat.”
She orders the lobster dip ($9.50), and the fries ($5). I order the Philly sliders ($7.50). They’re pretty good. Basically meat chunks in melted cheese in a roll that has been ripped in three.
“Sliced-up filet mignon,” says Gwyn about my meat. And seems it comes from the same cows as the expensive steaks. Wagyu. (“Wagyu” just means “Japanese cow” in Japanese. It’s part of that massaged, beer-drinking Kobe-type cattle breed that’s always been held up as the best, and now gets bred here.) And, yes, my chunks are tender. But no great zap-yo-mouth flavor-zing. Cheez Whiz is, well, what it is. I guess we’re talking “upmarket” comfort foods here.
The fries are totally not interesting. They have beautiful miniature saucepans filled with bland Bordelaise sauce and ketchup for dipping. I guess the good news is they’re only five bucks.
Best is Carla’s lobster dip. Real bits of lobster, creamy-rich and slightly peppery.
My Brooklyn bacon steak
But the best thing is just being able to enjoy playing rich people. Cool, tall glasses for your beer. Heavy flatware. Murmur of folks with nothing left to worry about.
Couple of days later I’m passing through town and can’t resist coming back. Wanna know what that Brooklyn bacon steak’s all about. This time I also notice you get HH oysters at $1, so I get six of those. And it turns out to be a great combo. The “steak” is basically two great wads of bacon, naked on a plate. But what wicked, squelchy, fatty, flavorful lengths of salted meat they are. Totally delish with a swill of Mermaid red.
But, that’s it. Budget-wise, HH or no, we’ve blown it for the month. Sitting up there above Coronado, protected by flames, rubbing shoulders with the rich and fabulous, it was a blast. Except even when it’s cheap, it ain’t.
Happy Hour Prices: Stake popcorn, $2.50; lobster dip with cheese curds, peppers, $9.50; fries with Bordelaise gravy, $5; “Stake” tartare, $9; Brooklyn bacon steak, $5.50; Philly cheese steak sliders, $7.50; cheese plate, $7.50; tempura vegetables, $6; oysters $1
Happy Hour Hours: 4:30–6:30 p.m. daily
Buses: 901; 904
Nearest bus stop: Orange Avenue at B Avenue